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Transparency through Labelling? Layers of Visibility in Environmental Risk Management

  • Mikael Klintman
  • Magnus Boström
  • C, Garsten
  • M. Lindh de Montoya
Publishing year: 2008
Language: English
Pages: 178-197
Publication/Series: Transparency in a New Global Order: Unveiling Organizational Visions
Document type: Book chapter
Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing

Abstract english

The aim of this chapter is to move the issue a bit beyond the polarized views of

profound critical reflection versus excessive trust in the checking procedures behind

standards. We claim that the polarized views are largely due to an over-simplistic

understanding of transparency. By comparing practical policy processes surrounding

various standards, we aim to provide nuance to the issue of transparency. This study ofpolicy processes, along with examinations of theoretical work in policy analysis, makes

clear the limits of merely treating transparency in terms of ‘more’ versus ‘less’. A more

thorough understanding of the promise and limits of transparency in policy processes

requires, we argue, another dimension, consisting of qualitatively different ‘layers’ of

transparency. The basis for our emphasis on this additional dimension is the obvious -

yet often overlooked - notion that an examination of standards, which are in turn

claimed to disclose hidden, and often physical, risks, needs to take the political context

into account as well as the negotiations and framings surrounding the schemes on which

the standards are based. Since risks are uncertain, socially and culturally dependent, and

since they are evaluated and interpreted in many different ways by actors with diverse

ideologies and interests, a more comprehensive transparency must reach far beyond the

concrete visibility and direct awareness of the label itself.

Based on these claims we find it useful to distinguish between four layers of

transparency in relation to standards, certificates and labels: (1) simple, mediated

transparency, (2) negotiated transparency, (3) intra-frame transparency and (4) interframe

transparency (see figure 1). We maintain, nevertheless, that transparency through

standards and labels remains closely related to people’s own direct experiences of risks.

Thus, experiences and senses of our environment never loose their relevance even in

relation to very abstract, technical and expert-oriented tools. Hence, in addition, direct

experience (yet situated, interpreted, etc.) is prevalent at all these four layers.

Empirically, this chapter examines how these layers of transparency operate in

the context of standardized eco-labelling schemes that are claimed to make invisible

risks visible and manageable.


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
  • uncertainty
  • eco-standards
  • framing
  • forestry
  • food
  • electricity
  • Transparency


  • ISBN: 978-1-84542-325-4
Mikael Klintman
E-mail: mikael [dot] klintman [at] soc [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 70 284 55 48

+46 70 284 55 48


Sociologiska institutionen, Paradisgatan 5, Hus G, Lund


Sociologist with a broad, human scientific interest in social, economic and evolutionary dimensions of environmental and health related problems.

Department of Sociology
Lund University
Visiting address: Sandgatan 11, House G, Lund
Postal address: Box 114 , SE-221 00 LUND, SWEDEN
Telephone: Student Office +46 46-222 88 44, Lund University Switchboard +46 46-222 00 00

Faculty of Social Sciences